King Vulture

King Vulture



COMMON NAME: king vulture
KINGDOM: Animalia
PHYLUM: Chordata
ORDER: Falconiformes
FAMILY: Cathartidae
GENUS SPECIES: Sarcoramphus papa (translates as "the pope's fleshy beak" - referring to the bright orange skin on the top of the orange beak)


DESCRIPTION: The king vulture has white eyes (ringed with red), broad wings, a short tail, black wings and tail (above), and an orange beak. The underside of the wings and chest are white. The head and neck are bare.
SIZE: Approximately 67.5-80 cm (27-32 in); wingspan of 1.2-1.66 m (4-5.5 ft)
WEIGHT: About 2.7-4.5 kg (6-10 lb.)
DIET: Mainly feeds on carrion
INCUBATION: 32-38 days; usually only a single chick is hatched
LIFE SPAN: 20-25 years in the wild; longer in captivity
RANGE: Central Mexico to Paraguay to north Argentina
HABITAT: Inhabits savanna, tropical forest, and semi-forested lowlands
STATUS: IUCN Not listed
CITES Appendix II
USFWS Not listed


1. There are several theories as to why the king vulture was given its name; one theory suggests it comes from a Mayan legend (dating back to ~450 A.D.) that believed the vulture to be a messenger between humans and the gods and the vulture was personified as a lord or king.
2. How king vultures find their food is a topic scientists do not agree on: some say they have excellent eyesight and can see the meal, others say it is their sense of smell that locates the meat, still others say neither - the vultures merely follow other scavenging birds to the food.
3. The king vulture has one of the most powerful beaks of all American vultures and can open a carcass that other vultures cannot. For this reason, they often eat first and other vultures feed off the remains.
4. The head and neck of a king vulture lack feathers. This helps to prevent bacteria and remains of the carcass from "fowling" up the feathers on the head. After eating, the vulture will relax in the sun and allow the heat to bake off the bacteria.
5. For more information about raptors, explore the RAPTORS INFOBOOK.


The role of the king vulture in its environment is that of a scavenger. The king vulture feeds on rotting carcasses which could potentially spread disease. They are also able to utilize a food resource which few animals take advantage of.


Brown, L. and D. Amadon. Eagles, Hawks, and Falcons of the World. Wellfleet Press, Secaucas, New Jersey. 1989.

Grady, W. Vulture - Nature's Ghastly Gourmet. Greystone Books,Vancouver, B.C. 1997.

Grossman, M. L. and J. Hamlet. Birds of Prey of the World. CrownPublishers Inc., New York City. 1964.

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